New Delhi: “What is the use of my talent and me being an artist, if my art doesn’t make people think or doesn’t do anything for the society?” says the 42-year old Padma Shree awardee Sudarsan Pattnaik who has made sand his canvas. The world renowned sand-artist has on numerous occasions dedicated his gigantic sand sculptures to raise awareness among people about the environmental issues like ocean pollution, climate change and plastic waste.

Sudarsan has won several awards, titles and gold medals for his work and has even gone on to set a Guinness World Record for creating World’s Tallest Sand Castle. All the honours and accolades have brought a sense of responsibility to him and his art, says Sudarsan. He chooses to make his sand sculptures based on issues and tries to make them as hard hitting as possible to reach the maximum audience.

The most recent example of this is when he won the prestigious People’s Choice Award 2019 at the Boston International Sand Art Championship on July 28. His sand sculpture, which received highest amount of votes in the competition, was on plastic pollution.

Even though the artists were free to choose the themes, Sudarsan told NDTV and he always tried to use such prestigious platforms for things that matter like hazards of plastic waste.

Beaches in his hometown Puri, have often been witness to sand sculptures highlighting menace of plastic waste, ocean pollution, tree plantation and open defecation, among other environmental issues, making the sand artist one of the heroes of Swachh India.

Also Read: Sand Artist Sudarsan Pattnaik Spreads The ‘Go Green’ Message Through His Sand Art Creation On New Year’s Eve

Representing India in 60 countries through his sculptures, Sudarsan aims to sensitise people to ‘save the earth’. He has also single-handedly managed to ensure only treated water enters the seas of his hometown Puri in addition to being associated with Odisha’s major beach clean up campaign. Sudarsan runs an art institute where he not only trains the students in sand art but also helps them spread his message of environment protection.

Sudarsan embarked on a journey to inform people about the hazards to the environment through his art in 2008, during the sand sculpture world championship competition in Berlin.

His work received global praise as Sudarsan chose to sXhow the impact of climate change through his sand sculpture. As his muse, he took Knut, the German polar bear sitting on top of a globe with a sign that said, ‘Save My Family.’ The sculpture depicted several countries around the globe becoming drylands because of climate change. His work became immensely popular and Sudarsan thought he found the perfect way to merge two of his passions- environment and sand art.

Sudarsan told NDTV that the reason behind his inclination towards raising awareness about the environment as well as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is to motivate people to participate in these initiatives.

I have been making sand sculptures on various themes of environmental degradation for years now but since the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014 by PM Narendra Modi, in an attempt to raise maximum awareness, I’m doing it at a larger level now. Also, we’re facing a major crisis, and I’m doing my bit to sensitise people about how not only precious, but also sensitive the environment is. Not just in India, but lately, in every country I represent India in, I prefer to sensitise people about the global necessity of environment protection. As an artist one should always want to raise awareness about issues that matter and that’s all I try to do.

The honours and achievements he has received, has also spurred to highlight these social causes through his sculptures. He elaborated on the sense of responsibility these accolades bring to him,

When I was in the US for Boston International Sand Art Championship, the NRIs drove down for 5-6 hours just to meet me and see my creation. These efforts, respect and admiration from people give you a sense of responsibility that you have to act upon. And one should never stop spreading positivity and motivation among the people who look up to you. What is the use of my talent and me being an artist, if my art doesn’t make people think or doesn’t do anything for the society? Even if I make a single person think twice looking at my art, I feel fulfilled. In Boston, for my sand sculpture was on plastic pollution, I saw a toddler telling his mom – ‘look mom, see the straws are choking the turtle. That’s why we should not use single-use plastics. See how it says save earth, save oceans.’ – Children are our future, so I feel blissful even if one child gets the point behind the awareness I’m trying to create. That kid further goes and tell 10 people and out of those ten, 2 people will feel for it and the chain goes on.

Heroes Of Swachh India: Meet Sudarshan Pattnaik, Award Winning Sand Artist Who Has Dedicated His Art To ‘Save The Earth’
People’s Choice Award winning sand sculpture based on plastic pollution at the Boston International Sand Art Championship

Also Read: On World Toilet Day, PM Modi Lauds Sand Artist Sudarsan Pattnaik For His Art Installation Of A Toilet

Very few people know about the humble beginnings and struggles this acclaimed artist had in his childhood, which included him working as a ‘child labour’. Even during his difficult childhood, Sudarsan had a keen interest in arts and at the same time felt drawn towards the environment.

My childhood saw a lot of struggle. There was no breadwinner in my house and my family of five depended on my grandmother’s pension of only Rs. 200, for all our needs. The circumstances got so poor that I was forced to quit my education and start working as a domestic help at my neighbour’s house, while I was still a minor. There was no financial compensation for my duties, I only received free meals. Since early school days, I was drawn towards arts but I had no money to purchase supplies like colours, pen or paper. My life has always been by the beach in Puri and which is why the next best thing I had was the sand at the beach near my home. And that’s where I started letting out my artistic capabilities – through sand arts. At the same time, the sea has been such an important part of my childhood, it pains me to see marine life choking on plastic today.

Sudarsan stressed on the necessity for every corporate to every housing society adopting methods to reduce plastic waste and save our oceans.

We need awareness at a bigger level. Even if there is awareness, people choose to remain ignorant. That’s where people like us, who are fortunate enough to use their voice to make an impact need to step in.

Apart from raising awareness, Sudarsan also attempted to use his position to help ensure cleaner seas in Puri. When in 2017 he saw that untreated drainage water was being dumped into the seas causing pollution of the sea water and ruining the beaches. He thought it was imperative for him to take a stance against it.

Cleanliness of the sea is something very close to my heart and in my hometown Puri, until recently the drainage water was entering the sea directly. What is the point of all my achievements and attempt to sensitise people, if I can’t help my own city? I took up the issue with the authorities and tried to ensure that the water is treated before it enters our seas to minimise ocean pollution.

Sudarsan protested in Puri demanding that the government treat the polluted waters before dumping it into the sea. After his efforts, in 2017 his plea was heard and the Odisha government declared that the water will be treated before it goes into the sea.

Today, not just in Puri, but almost every beach in Odisha sees only treated water entering the sea. This made me realise that I have the ability to ensure change at a larger level in addition to just informing people.

The artist then also became a part of Puri’s ‘Mo beach’ campaign. ‘Mo’ is an Odiya word which literally translates to ‘my’ and the campaign is aimed at encouraging people to consider the beaches of Puri as their own and keeping them as clean as their homes.

The campaign, a brain child of Puri’s District Magistrate, Balwant Singh in partnership with Sudarsan, calls for the people to participate in the cleanups and helps minimise the litter at the beaches.

The Mo Beach Initiative taken up by the Puri District Magistrate is aimed at curbing plastic pollution and promote community led beach cleanups. This is why Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is so important because it promotes community led initiatives and that’s what we tried to replicate that with the focus being on seas at our level.

The Padma Shree awardee feels that initiatives like Mo beach should be scaled up at a national level and not just Odisha and Puri beach or tourist beaches.

Puri DM Mr. Balwant Singh praised Sudarsan’s passion towards the environment and expressed his gratitude for Sudarsan helping create a change for better in Puri and the world. He added,

Very few people are genuinely passionate and choose to work day and night for the environment, without any self-interest or personal gain. One of those few people is Sudarsan Pattnaik and we are so fortunate to have him in Puri and for all his efforts to secure environment for the future of our kids.

Also Read: Sand Artist Sudarsan Pattnaik Creates A Santa With 10,000 Plastic Bottles To Mark Green Christmas

When he’s not saving the environment, Sudarsan is preparing an army to do so! Sudarsan runs an open air Sudarsan Sand Art Institute in Puri, to train budding sand artists and also to teach them the importance of making their artwork hard-hitting and topical.

41-year-old Jitendra Kishore Jagdev, a trainee at the Sudarsan Sant Art Institute, who has often worked with Sudarsan in making some of the gigantic sculptres, told NDTV about the major role Sudarsan has played in making him sensitive towards the environment in addition to encouraging him to chose issues that matter as the theme of his art.

As a student here, I’m here to learn about sand art. Nonetheless, working on sculptures and learning from Mr. Pattnaik, has helped me develop a sense of responsibility towards the environment. He’s taught me to do my bit and use my talent for things that matter.

While another trainee, Balu Mohanti, 30, says that he had no idea how big a threat plastic pollution was until he started working on some of the sculptures and attended Sudarsan’s training.

He has taught me more than just sand art. I’m so conscious about using single-use plastics and minimising plastic waste, thanks to him!

Talking about his sand sculptures and his choice to highlight environmental issues through his art, Sudarsan said,

I didn’t care about the financial gains from this field, I just knew that I wanted to do this and so I continued. Eventually and fortunately it picked up pace and I have managed to reach this point today that I can use to talk about the environment and get complements from dignitaries like the former UN Environment Chief, Erik Solhiem and Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi, who praised my sand art on the theme of plastic pollution.

On the 73rd Independence Day, Sudarsan says that his vision for India include zero-littering in the country and elimination of single-use plastics throughout the nation. He asserts that previous generations have exploited plastics, owing to its cost effectiveness and durability, leaving us to face this crisis today.

Now that we know how dangerous plastics truly is, we need to prevent our kids from facing the same crisis. We also need to bring about behavioural change to the habit of littering. When Indians travel on national highways, I’ve often observed that a lot of them will open the windows of their moving cars and throw out the waste from their windows. Who do they think will clean it on the highways? This is what we need them to understand, littering needs to stop.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollutionclean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.

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